Story: Cold War

Page 7. Cold War legacies

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Mixed legacy

The collapse of Soviet power in 1991 left a mixed legacy. The end of the oppressive and authoritarian Soviet system was widely welcomed, and the West saw this as confirmation of its own belief that market democracy was the only surviving model of the desirable state. The United States was left as the only superpower. The collapse left ravaged societies in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, which had split into a number of smaller states, and the end of Cold War restraints released a series of ethnic and civil wars, notably in Yugoslavia and the Caucasus.


The United Nations was established in 1945 with the hope of settling great power disputes. However it was prevented by the veto (which allowed any of the five permanent UN members to veto a resolution) from playing a significant part in the main Cold War issues, such as the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. Korea was the exception. A brief Soviet boycott of the Security Council enabled a UN force to be despatched to defend South Korea. The end of the Cold War restored the UN to something like its original concept, but the veto still prevented consistent action.


In Asia the Cold War had already faded, and the only visible effect of the Soviet collapse was the disappearance of the Russian navy from the Pacific. The four communist governments in Asia – China, North Korea, Laos and Vietnam – survived because they were at least as nationalist as they were Marxist. National consciousness in Eastern Europe had never been reconciled to Russian-imposed communism. China and Vietnam maintained a formal Marxism but relied on their national identity and economic growth for legitimacy. Even that strange remnant of an earlier era, North Korea, portrayed itself as the upholder of true Korean nationalism and became the only communist state to have hereditary leadership succession.

New Zealand

In New Zealand the end of the Cold War confirmed a ‘semi-aligned’ status which continued to be wary of the US while remaining firmly Western in its outlook. At home, powers of state surveillance (and people's distrust of such activities) had been strengthened by the demands of the Cold War. Most people were relieved that the conflict and its dangers were finally over.

Baby, you’re so cold

In 1955 legendary New Zealand country singer Tex Morton recorded with Sister Dorrie and his Roughriders a song featuring Cold War references. Titled ‘This cold war with you’, it included the lines ‘The sun goes down and leaves me sad and blue. The iron curtain falls on this cold war with you.’ It was not one of Morton’s greatest hits.

Cultural legacy

Compared with the turbulent first half of the 20th century, the Cold War could be called the ‘long peace’, because intermittent fear of war is not actually war. Perhaps because of this, it left little trace on the arts. New Zealand poets, painters and musicians were more concerned with the nuclear threat than with the Cold War itself. New Zealander Rewi Alley, a long-time resident of China and one of Beijing’s official ‘foreign friends’, wrote voluminous poetry, periodically published in New Zealand, which was political rather than literary. Possibly the principal international artistic achievement inspired by the Cold War was a splendid sequence of spy novels concerned with the technical skills and moral ambiguities of the long struggle.

How to cite this page:

Gerald Hensley, 'Cold War - Cold War legacies', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 July 2024)

Story by Gerald Hensley, published 20 Jun 2012